The National Alliance of Journalists (NAJ)and the Delhi Union of Journalists(DUJ) jointly welcomed the two recent Supreme Court orders critiquing the filing of sedition cases against the media. It particularly notes that in the quashing of the sedition FIR against senior journalist Vinod Dua with the observation that “Every journalist will be entitled to the protection under Kedar Nath Singh (sedition) judgement…” comes as a major relief to the profession.
They also note that on May 31, 2021 the Supreme Court had also ordered the Andhra Pradesh police not to take coercive action against two Telugu channels charged with sedition, observing that the law needs interpretation. The case is ongoing.
In a joint statement today the National alliance of Journalists and Delhi Union of Journalists President S.K.Pande, NAJ Secretary General N.Kondaiah, DUJ General Secretary Sujata Madhok and APWJF General Secretary G. Anjaneyulu “charged that too many such cases have been filed against journalists and other citizens, often by vindictive government authorities at district and state levels who have been called out for corruption or deficient services or discrimination. Political opponents too have been victimised through such cases. The National Crime Records Bureau reports that between 2016 to 2019, there was a 160 per cent increase in filing of sedition charges. Yet only 3.3 per cent have been convicted. Of the 96 people charged in 2019, only two could be convicted.”
The Supreme Court they noted has increasingly had to deal with such cases against the media. In Vinod Dua’s case the court has upheld the Kedar Nath judgement that says no case of sedition under Section 124 A can be made out unless there is a specific call for violence or a link between statements made and the outbreak of violence. The court has also said prosecution against S. 505 of the IPC must be in consonance with the Kedar Nath ruling.
The statement adds, ‘we are convinced though, that the Vinod Dua judgment, salutary as it is, still leaves journalists vulnerable to vexatious and vindictive prosecution by political authorities. The over-broad powers given under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act are a clear and present threat to journalistic freedom. A case in point is Siddique Kappan, who works with a number of news organisations and is secretary of the Kerala Union of Working Journalists(Delhi Unit), arrested by the police while on his way to Hathras early in October, to report on the death after alleged sexual assault, of a young girl of the Dalit community. Charged with sedition and other offences, including under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, his detention could potentially be prolonged indefinitely.
Finally, we state that journalists are also citizens above all else. And in bringing to light aspects of the governance process that are of significant public consequence, they are doing no more than performing their civic function as citizens. We reiterate that the sedition law is being misused for arbitrary arrests against journalists and activists. We strongly believe that it is time for the apex Court to strike down the outmoded sedition law and review other sections of the law that are being misused to muzzle free speech and expression.